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Perspective

Parking Reform Will Save the City

Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   
For those who dream of reclaiming America's parking lots, a new day is coming.
For those who dream of reclaiming America's parking lots, a new day is coming.Mark Blinch/Reuters

At the dawn of the automobile age, suppose Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller had asked how city planners could increase the demand for cars and gasoline. Consider three options. First, divide the city into separate zones (housing here, jobs there, shopping somewhere else) to create travel between the zones. Second, limit density to spread everything apart and further increase travel. Third, require ample off-street parking everywhere so cars will be the easiest and cheapest way to travel.

American cities have unwisely adopted these three car-friendly policies. Separated land uses, low density, and ample free parking create drivable cities and prevent walkable neighborhoods. Although city planners did not intend to enrich the automobile and oil industries, their plans have shaped our cities to suit our cars. As John Keats wrote in The Insolent Chariots, “The automobile changed our dress, manners, social customs, vacation habits, the shape of our cities, consumer purchasing patterns, and positions in intercourse.” Some of us were even conceived in a parked car.